Fentanyl Addiction: Effects, Withdrawal & Treatment

Fentanyl has become common in the illicit drug supply and is a main contributor to the increasing number of overdose deaths in the U.S.1,2 Keep reading to learn more about fentanyl, its effects and risks of use, how to get help for fentanyl addiction, and more.
Did you know most health insurance plans cover addiction treatment?
About Fentanyl

What Is Fentanyl?

Fentanyl is a potent and highly addictive synthetic opioid drug that can be legally prescribed by a doctor for severe pain management or illegally manufactured and sold on the street.3

Fentanyl can be found in a variety of forms. Prescription fentanyl is available as a shot, skin patch, or lozenge that can be sucked like a cough drop. Illicit fentanyl is made in labs and often sold as a powder, drops on dissolvable blotter paper, eye drops, or nasal sprays, and as pills that resemble other prescription opioids.3

Additionally, fentanyl is sometimes used as an additive or adulterant in other illicit substances like heroin, cocaine, methamphetamine, and MDMA.3

The rising presence of fentanyl in the illegal drug supply has become a major factor in the nation’s ongoing opioid crisis. Synthetic opioids, especially illicitly manufactured fentanyl, are involved in most fatal drug overdoses.2–4

How Does Fentanyl Work?

Fentanyl works by quickly binding to and affecting opioid receptors in a person’s body. These receptors are found prominently in the areas of the brain that control pain and emotions.3

Its fast-acting nature and potency are useful for surgical patients and other people in pain crises but contribute to the reinforcing effects that can lead to misuse, addiction, and overdose.3,6

Fentanyl Effects & Dangers

Effects of Fentanyl

The effects of fentanyl may vary depending on how much and how often a person has been using fentanyl, whether any other substances are taken with it, and personal health factors.5

Adverse effects of fentanyl include:3

  • Sedation and drowsiness.
  • Confusion.
  • Loss of consciousness.
  • Respiratory depression.
  • Difficulty breathing.
  • Nausea.
  • Constipation.

Fentanyl-Laced Drugs

In some cases, drug dealers and traffickers will mix fentanyl with other drugs, like cocaine, methamphetamine, or counterfeit pills. Fentanyl-laced drugs are especially dangerous for consumers because there is no regulation and little consistency in the method of manufacturing and mixing illicit fentanyl.2,3,7

This means a person may not realize they are taking fentanyl or know how much fentanyl they are taking, which increases the risk of overdose. Fentanyl is up to 100 times more potent than morphine, making a lethal dose very small and easy to accidentally consume.1–3

Fentanyl Overdose Symptoms

Knowing the symptoms of fentanyl overdose can save a life. If you think someone around you may have overdosed on fentanyl, look for the following signs of opioid overdose:2,6

  • Loss of consciousness and inability to waken.
  • Pinpointed pupils.
  • Slow, shallow, or stopped breathing.
  • Bluish or purple-colored fingernails or lips.

In the event of an opioid overdose or potential overdose, call 911 immediately. Most states have Good Samaritan laws that protect people from criminal penalties for their own drug use if they call 911 to save a life.8

Other actions that may save a life during a fentanyl overdose include:3

  • Administering naloxone (Narcan, Kloxxado, Rivive), if available.
  • Keeping the person awake, if possible.
  • Turn them on their side (if they cannot sit up) with an ear to the ground to prevent choking.
  • Staying with the person until help arrives.

Naloxone is a medication that can reverse the effects of a fentanyl or other opioid overdose. It typically comes in an easy-to-use nasal spray that’s available without a prescription at most U.S. pharmacies.3,8

Fentanyl Withdrawal & Detox

Fentanyl Dependence & Withdrawal

With regular use, a person may develop physiological dependence, where normal functioning is maintained through the sustained presence of opioids. Once dependence develops, a person will likely experience withdrawal symptoms if they abruptly stop or cut back their use of fentanyl and other opioids.3

Fentanyl withdrawal symptoms can vary and may include:2,3,6

  • Anxiety.
  • Restlessness.
  • Insomnia.
  • Fever and sweating.
  • Watery eyes and runny nose.
  • Chills.
  • Body aches.
  • Abdominal cramping.
  • Diarrhea and vomiting.
  • Intense cravings.

Detox for Fentanyl Withdrawal

Withdrawal from fentanyl and other opioids can be very uncomfortable. A medical detox program can help ensure patient comfort and safety during the withdrawal process and foster entry into long-term treatment and recovery.2,9

These programs provide a supportive and medically supervised environment with options for medications to manage acute symptoms and treat opioid use disorder. The main medications used during fentanyl and other opioid withdrawal are:3,9

  • Methadone.
  • Buprenorphine.
  • Clonidine.
  • Lofexidine.

The types of detox medications used may vary depending on a person’s individual needs and the availability of medications at each specific program.

Fentanyl Addiction Treatment

Signs of Fentanyl Addiction

Addiction is characterized by an inability to control one’s drug use despite the harmful consequences.3

Recognizing the signs of addiction can help you or your loved one get help as soon as possible. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (5th edition) lists a set of 11 criteria that professionals look for when diagnosing opioid use disorders, the clinical diagnosis for an opioid addiction.

How Is Fentanyl Addiction Treated?

Fentanyl addiction is treated through a continuum of addiction treatment services that vary depending on a person’s individual needs. While individual treatment plans will differ, the following levels of care are available:11

  • Medical detox: In detox programs, people go through withdrawal under medical supervision to ensure safety and minimize discomfort during the process.
  • Inpatient rehab: This may occur in hospital or residential settings that provide 24/7 care and support for moderate to severe substance use disorders.
  • Intensive outpatient programs (IOPs) or partial hospitalization programs (PHPs): These programs provide highly structured treatment schedules that can serve as a step-down from inpatient or as an entry point to treatment for the right person. Time commitment may be as much as 6–8 hours per day throughout the work week and lessen as a person recovers.
  • Traditional outpatient rehab: Typically for people with mild to moderate substance use disorders, or as a step-down from more intense treatment, these programs are less structured than other forms of outpatient rehab and allow for more flexibility around a person’s other responsibilities.
  • Aftercare: Continued care after formal treatment ends. Aftercare may involve ongoing check-ins with a recovery coach, living in a sober community, attending a mutual support group, or other recovery resources.

In each level of treatment, a variety of behavioral therapies and medications may be used. Methadone, buprenorphine, and naltrexone can be prescribed as medications to support ongoing recovery, allowing a person to live a productive and meaningful life despite their addiction.3,11

Examples of addiction therapy used in fentanyl addiction treatment include:3

  • Cognitive behavioral therapy.
  • Motivational interviewing.
  • Contingency management.

Fentanyl Addiction Treatment in Texas

If you or a loved one is struggling with fentanyl use, help is available. Greenhouse Treatment Center is an inpatient rehab near Dallas that offers multiple types of rehab care. Using evidence-based treatments and individualized treatment plans, Greenhouse has supported many patients on their path to recovery.

Greenhouse admissions navigators are available by phone 24/7 to answer questions about the treatment admissions process, how to get started, and any concerns you may have. Call to learn more about navigating insurance coverage, handling the cost of rehab, or overcoming other common barriers to getting treatment.

Call today. Now is the right time to get the help you deserve.

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